Saturday, January 3, 2015

Gov. Mario Cuomo: His Final Adirondack Speech

Mario Cuomo at Silver Bay, 1994 1There will be many eulogies this week for Mario M. Cuomo. For me, the former Governor, like a certain white pine in our woods whose annual whorl of branches totes up the years I have lived here, is a measure of my time on this earth.

Thirty years ago last summer, Mario M. Cuomo gave that great address in San Francisco to the Democratic National Convention. I had just moved to upstate New York that year to be with Susan. As Governor, Mario Cuomo helped define the first eight years I worked for the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks.

My colleagues and I were alarmed or frustrated many times with the Governor between 1984 and 1994. Why wouldn’t he move quicker on environmental protection fund legislation? Why couldn’t his administration appropriate funds more expeditiously from the environmental bond act of 1986? Why wouldn’t he back more fully his Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century?

I remember the first action alert I ever received in my mailbox during 1984. It was from the Adirondack Council in Elizabethtown, calling for letters and phone calls to oppose Gov. M. Cuomo’s nomination of Herman F. “Woody” Cole to be Member and Chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency. If my memory serves, the Adirondack Council objected to this nomination because Woody Cole had worked for the Olympic Regional Development Authority at Gore Mountain, and ORDA’s administration in those years often paid little heed to the “forever wild” clause of the State Constitution or to other protective laws.

There was a lot of truth to that early ORDA history but in the case of the late Woody Cole I am grateful that Mario Cuomo appointed him. Over the next eight years the Rev. Woody Cole showed that he was, in my opinion, one of the oldest and wisest souls to ever sit and deliberate on the APA.

In fact, Mario Cuomo appointed or reappointed a great many fine, thoughtful, hard working, commited people, including many who made a positive difference for the Adirondacks, such as John Collins of Blue Mountain Lake, Elizabeth Thorndike of Rochester, and Bob Glennon of Lake Placid.  He also reappointed other members who, while very different people, collectively and individually had a very positive influence on the Park: Peter Paine, Anne LaBastille, and Arthur Savage, as well as John Stock of Tupper Lake and Bill Rhoden from Trout Lake in Warren County, among many others.  Then, there was Tom Jorling, Langdon Marsh and Joan Davidson as commissioners of Environmental Conservation and Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, respectively. Gov. M. Cuomo also appointed Frank Murray and Joe Martens as his environmental secretaries. Joe has served Gov. Andrew Cuomo as DEC Commissioner these past four years, while Frank went on to be president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Mario Cuomo with students at Silver Bay, 1994In 1994, some twenty years ago, Joe Martens phoned me at the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks to say that the Governor Mario Cuomo planned to present Paul Schaefer his top environmental award that year, and would our conference at Silver Bay be a good venue for that presentation.  Joe had a great deal to do with the decision. By then, Paul had been a Vice President of my organization for 37 years. He had been the most effective Adirondack wilderness coalition leader for 60 years. By 1994, Paul had had many interactions with the Governor and with Joe Martens through the various committees and advisory boards Paul served on. Joe had personally visited Paul many times at his home in Niskayuna.

In fact, when Gov. M. Cuomo signed the Environmental Protection Fund law in Essex County during the summer of 1993, Paul felt so warmly about Joe and Gov. Cuomo that without telling anyone he rose from his seat in the audience and spoke after the Governor’s speech – to the complete astonishment of everyone including myself, but Mario Cuomo himself apparently took it in stride. The following year, on September 30, 1994, Mario Cuomo, then behind in the polls to challenger George Pataki, honored Paul Schaefer during an address at Morse Hall, Silver Bay YMCA Conference Center on Lake George. It was his final Adirondack appearance as Governor.

Harold Holzer and others who wrote for the Governor have told WAMC Public Radio this week that Mario Cuomo’s speeches were never written for him. They were written with him; in fact he crafted them, with the help of speechwriters.   So, here is its entirety is that 1994 address at Silver Bay by Gov. Mario Matthew Cuomo. It includes a recapitulation of so much that his administration accomplished, but also conveyed an eloquent, reverent and deeply personal sense of moral responsibility to protect our planetary home.

“Thank You.

I want to thank the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Council – and all the supporters of liberty and intelligence here today – for inviting me to join you.

Sometimes politicians need to be reminded that when it comes to words, less is often more.

The ten commandments? Only about 80 words. The Gettysburg Address – a little over 250. The Bill of Rights – 500.

The New York State Constitution – a document that could definitely use some editing – about 80,000 words. But within it is a nugget of pithy wisdom – the 54 words of the “forever wild” clause that represent the strongest preservation law ever written.

And on the slender shoulders of that clause, the Adirondack Park – the largest state park in America outside of Alaska – larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined – larger than six states – is held high.

To New Yorkers, “forever wild” announces a right every bit as valuable as the other rights enumerated in the covenants of our democracy, a right that is as essential a human need as shelter, warmth, and love – a aright to the ecological integrity of the common landscape.

And New York is the only state in the nation in which this right is constitutionally guaranteed.

During my tenure as governor, we’ve always been inspired and instructed by that little piece of the Constitution to work to preserve all the beauty of this state.

In 1984, we passed the first law in the nation to reduce the emissions that cause acid rain, helping to control that dangerous threat to our forests and lakes.

We’ve reduced pollution by setting tough clean air standards, by ending ocean dumping of our sludge, and by managing our waste more intelligently.

To preserve the sweeping landscape of New York, we’ve developed the state’s first comprehensive open space conservation plan. And to put that plan into action, last year we passed an environmental protection act that establishes the first permanent environmental fund in our state’s history.

And we’re working to create a Hudson River Greenway – a chain of parks, open space, and trails that will eventually allow an adventurous kid from New York City to reach the glories of the Adirondacks under the power of his or her own feet.

So many of our efforts have been directed towards the Adirondacks – the most remarkable, unbroken landscape in the eastern United States.

By acquisition and by conservation easements, we’ve protected over 200,000 Adirondack acres.

Our acquisitions for the Forest Preserve include the 9,000-acre Bog River/Low’s Lake Tract that opened a magnificent canoe route closed for a hundred years. Thanks to generous donations by Niagara Mohawk and the R.K. Mellon Foundation, we’ve acquired lands that give the citizens of New York over 14 miles of Hudson River shoreline. With a generous gift from International Paper, over 5,000 acres are protected by easement in the Town of Piercefield. And over 13 miles of the Raquette River shoreline now are open to public use.

With funds made available by the Environmental Protection Act of 1993 we are in the process of acquiring the Split Rock Tract on Lake Champlain. And I am pleased to announce today that we have signed a formal agreement this week for the purchase of the Morgan lands just across Lake George. These are among the largest stretches of undeveloped shoreline on both lakes.

I want to assure you that despite what you’ve been reading in the papers – we continue to move forward on the purchase of the 14,000 acre Follensby Pond Tract in Franklin County – a parcel that contains over seven miles of Raquette River shoreline – and the pond where Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other members of the ‘Philosopher’s Club’ once camped.

The truth is, we would never have been able to add to the Forest Preserve nor protect the Adirondack Park if New York did not have a proud tradition of citizens defending the ecological commons – going back to those New Yorkers who voted for ‘forever wild’; in 1894.

Think about the discipline and courage that required!

Those men and women lived in the Gilded Age. An Era of Industrial expansion and economic growth. The temptation to continue to exploit the region was enormous – new wealth could have been gained. Some New Yorkers could have become rich.

Fortunately, these were New Yorkers who possessed a different vision of the Adirondacks – a vision of beauty, usefulness, and permanence that reached beyond their own lifetimes and their own opportunities for individual gain.

For over a hundred and fifty years, the Adirondack region has been blessed with ecological minutemen standing watch, and each generation has passed this mission to the next.

From Verplanck Colvin to Franklin Hough to Bob Marshall to Paul Jamieson to Harold Jerry to Barbara McMartin and Clarence Petty – and so many others in this room who keep watch on the Adirondacks today – the line continues.

One of the most important names in that chain belongs to someone we’re delighted to have with us today: Paul Schaefer.

Paul is one of those people who was born with a powerful feeling for nature, but he came to environmental work relatively l ate in life. It wasn’t until 1919 – when he’d already reached the ripe age of 11 – that Paul Schaefer officially became a conservationist. From then on, there was no stopping him.

In the 30’s, he fought mischievous amendments to the ‘forever wild’ clause. After meeting Bob Marshall on Mount Marcy in 1932, he talked him into founding the Wilderness Society. When commercial interests proposed that reservoirs be constructed in the high country for hydroelectric power production, Paul took up the cudgels once again.

There were fights in the Legislature, in the Executive Chamber, and in the Courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. And by the time he was finished a decade later, the people of this great state had amended the Constitution to prohibit such reservoirs – and not a single one had been built.

There have been many noble defenders of the ‘forever wild’ covenant since Colvin and Hough called for its creation, but none so tireless, none so persistent, none so selfless as Paul Schaefer.

Gov. Mario Cuomo with Paul Schaefer after the speechHow do we account for such devotion: for a lifetime of impassioned work from Paul Schaefer, for the urgent drive so many people in the past have felt to preserve our forests, for the urgency we feel in our work today?

The impulse can’t possibly be fully explained by any simple love for the scent of evergreens, or the sound of the birds, or the coolness of shade – or by any selfish enjoyment, powerful as those things are.

It is a confusing world for many of us. Frankly, I think one of the most important lessons we can teach our children is that our own survival is interwoven with the survival; of all God’s creatures. No man is an island ! No woman, no race, no nation – no Moose, either !

When we act to protect the air, the water, the earth, the sky, and the life that passes through it, we know that we’re not doing these things for ourselves or even our own families. We’re protecting them for generations that we will never know and generations that will never know us.

In the end, the commitment to protect this important natural legacy can only be explained by a belief in something larger than ourselves. It is the ultimate selfless act.

All our efforts to preserve and enhance our environment demonstrate our profound reverence for the great web of being, for the generations before us who planted and preserved the earth – and for the generations to come.

All the life that surrounds us, the magnificent links of creation, reaching forward, beyond us, to places and to dreams we ourselves will never reach.

It is the closest thing to morality and religions we allow in the work of our government.

It is a magnificent kind of statement about our human obligation to one another.

An act as intelligent as any prayer ever uttered: as beautiful as any faith ever held.

And it cannot help but inspire us to save what is precious, discard what is corrosive, and heal what has been damaged in the teeming human forests around us as well.

Thank you.”

Mario M. Cuomo, September 30, 1994

Silver Bay, New York

Photos: Above, Cuomo delivers his Adirondack address at Silver Bay, Sept.30 1994; middle, Gov Cuomo after the speech talking with students attending the “forever wild” centennial conference at Silver Bay, Sept. 30 1994; and below, Gov. Mario Cuomo with Paul Schaefer after the 1994 speech. Paul is presenting the governor with a “beaver gavel” made by Ken Rimany (now a staff partner with Adirondack Wild). (Photos by Ken Rimany).

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

10 Responses

  1. Jim J says:

    With all the moving remembrances of Gov Cuomo this week, it is wonderful to read these words and be reminded of his personal environmental beliefs which come as close to religious commitments as anything permitted by state government. Thanks for posting Dave.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    I think you should have also mentioned Cuomo’s appointment of Jim Frenette as an APA commissioner.

  3. Dave – Thanks for reminding us of all Cuomo’s life affirming contributions to the Park. What a great orator. I especially liked the line:
    “In the end, the commitment to protect this important natural legacy can only be explained by a belief in something larger than ourselves. It is the ultimate selfless act.”

  4. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks to Tony for raising Jim Frenette. That’s the problem with listing names, and writing too fast, important ones get left out. Jim is one. Yes, Mario Cuomo’s nomination of Jim to APA was very important. Jim made (and still makes) a lasting contribution not only to the discussion and debate on issues facing APA and DEC etc, but to the way those debates should be conducted. I will always admire Jim for the courage he demonstrated in attempting to encourage more civil discussion, light and less heat over the commission on the Adirondacks in 1990.

  5. Dave Gibson says:

    I am reminded that the late Bill Roden, former member of the APA, had no “h” in his last name.

  6. Mark C. Johnson says:

    Very nice Dave. Also fun, of course, to see daughters Monica, the blond facing the camera, and Annie (it is the back of her head), and Katie Rutkowski who the Governor is reaching out to touch. Silver Bay offers many great memories but this day was certainly one; especially the culmination of Mike Carr’s work on the Morgan Tract celebrated that day as well. And bringing back memories of Mary’s work on the Adirondack Centennial Watercolor Show, the rise of the Fund for Lake George, the good and expanding work of the Lake George Land Conservancy as now Nancy Williams retires. And, of course, your many important contributions over an exemplary career.

  7. John L says:

    Let’s not forget Mario’s sellout of Oneida and Madison County when he let the Indians put in their illegal casino in Verona. Think any money changed hands in that deal???

  8. George L. says:

    Everyone lauds Mario, but giving a good speech isn’t everything. Talk, even eloquent talk, is cheap. There is something called doing. During Cuomo’s terms, more prison beds were built than by all previous NY governors combined. Was this an example of Cuomo being a liberal? Pataki couldn’t speak like Cuomo, and Pataki was no liberal, but how many acres were added to the NY Forest Preserve under each governor? It seems to me that Cuomo was not the person he is represented to be. Rather, he is the person we imagined or wished him to be (with his encouragement).

  9. Tony Goodwin says:

    Cuomo may not have added that much acreage to the Forest Preserve, but he did actively promote and ultimately sign the bill that created the Environmental Protection Fund – a source of funding that has added thousands of acres to the Forest Preserve, protected many thousands more with easements, and been used for other worthy projects.

    His son, Andrew, gets credit for all of the Finch lands deals. but it was his dad that put the funding in place for that to happen.

  10. Dave Gibson says:

    Amen to what Tony writes. The EPF, despite its warts, remains a great legacy of the M. Cuomo administration.

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